My Take: Why partying over bin Laden's death made me cringe
People celebrate the announcement of the death of Osama bin Laden at the White House.
May 3rd, 2011
06:16 PM ET

My Take: Why partying over bin Laden's death made me cringe

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

Today in my “Death and Immortality” course at Boston University we were supposed to be discussing suicide and euthanasia. Instead we spoke of the death of Osama Bin Laden, the celebrations that followed in its wake and the Facebook war that broke out later concerning the propriety of “celebrating death.”

Many of my students partied in the streets and on nearby Boston Common after President Barack Obama announced to the world that bin Laden was dead. Others found those celebrations not only inappropriate but morbid - fit for Mardi Gras, perhaps, but not for the demise of a fellow human being, however odious.

When I polled the class, my students were split almost precisely down the middle on this question. Some felt “uneasy” and “uncomfortable” with the parties (which one student insisted were actually patriotic "rallies"). Others thought what was being celebrated was not death but justice; finally, America had a victory in the war on terror: “Mission Accomplished.”

When I turned on the television on Sunday night and saw the impromptu partying, I cringed. I wasn’t sure why, but I didn’t like the optics.

A student today helped to clarify my reaction. It looked to her - and to me - like images we had seen before: people celebrating in the streets in the Muslim world after the 9/11 attacks. Have we become, she and I thought, like them?

Another student said that all the liberal hand-wringing about the propriety of the parties (including my own) was rooted in an inability to face up to our shared humanity. It is human to get angry. It is human to want revenge. It is human to hate your enemies, and to throw your hands in the air in exultation after they are killed.

Still, I couldn’t help noticing that the contingent in favor of the partying seemed farther removed from the events of 9/11. Students from New York City who had lost friends or family members on 9/11 - including one who said she went to 15 funerals in the days after the attacks - were in general more somber and reflective. Instead of celebrating bin Laden’s demise, it seemed, they were reliving the horrors of that day.

I didn’t lose any close friends on 9/11. But I thought that the visuals of drunken Americans chanting mindless (and often vulgar) slogans were not in American national security interests. There are lots of people around the world who hate America, and this was doing nothing to make us any more likeable.

But the key reasons for my disquiet were more psychological than strategic. I just don’t feel comfortable celebrating anyone’s death.

I think it comes down to an awareness of our shared mortality; the death of another human being reminds me of my own. And that is not a cause for celebration.

But the main reason I felt uncomfortable watching the bacchanalia in front of the White House and on Boston Common is because when it comes to death –anyone’s death - I feel I am in the presence of a great mystery, perhaps the great mystery of human life. And at least for me the appropriate response to that mystery is awe.

One of my students (she was in the anti-partying contingent) said that moments like this should lead us first and foremost into reflection. That is precisely what my students did for me today.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Death • Islam • Opinion • Osama bin Laden

soundoff (1,428 Responses)
  1. paul

    aren't you gonna be surprised when your allah turns out to be the Lord Jesus Christ!

    May 3, 2011 at 11:46 pm |
    • Wow

      Wow, you sound like the rest of the brainwashed people who CAUSE war because of completely useless statements. Find faith in yourself. Jesus was just a man who wanted to be free. Not a god, not the son of a god. Stop biting the pillow

      May 4, 2011 at 10:07 am |
    • NoReligion

      And to you sir... won't you be surprised when you die and that's that. No heaven or hell... no allah, no virgins. Religion is the problem...

      May 4, 2011 at 10:45 am |
  2. glu

    what a puss this author is..bite me sissy boy

    May 3, 2011 at 11:46 pm |
  3. be avis

    "But I thought that the visuals of drunken Americans chanting mindless (and often vulgar) slogans were not in American national security interests."

    Stephen Prothero, for a religion scholar you've assumed alot just in one sentence without knowing who or what those people, who showed up on the street, represents. how do you know those people were drunk or mindless? well this is america. even idiot like you have the right to your closed-minded opinion. if you were in Iran or Syria, your head would be rolling. God bless America!

    May 3, 2011 at 11:46 pm |
  4. Steffie

    ON Monday evening, on the CBC program "As it Happens", I heard a remarkable interview with Mrs. Donna Marsh O'Connor, a lady who lost a pregnant daughter on 9/11. Among other things, she said that she was saddened by the "celebrations" that erupted following the announcement of the killing of Osama Bin Laden. If someone so directly affected by the horrible event of nearly ten years ago shares the sentiments expressed by Mr. Prothero, that should give us all pause, particularly those of us who had to nurse just a single wound: pride!

    May 3, 2011 at 11:46 pm |
    • Bin Laden Bin Shot

      Um – how about people who experienced that same loss celebrating? Does that give you pause in your criticism of them, or do you just want to hold up examples of people that fit your profile?

      May 4, 2011 at 2:49 am |
  5. Virginia

    ‎"I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that."
    –Martin Luther King, Jr.

    May 3, 2011 at 11:45 pm |
    • Bin Laden Bin Shot

      MLK never heard of Osama.

      May 4, 2011 at 2:48 am |
    • Eddie M

      Exactly the sentiment expressed by the author, which I agree with, and as he wrote, 50% of his class. Which is probably representative of 50% of the population.

      It's not that I am upset that Bin Laden is dead, by whatever means, it's the celebration of the event that I too "cringe" at.

      May 4, 2011 at 9:46 am |
    • Holding Ground


      MLK never said that...

      The age of the internet. Where people can just make up quotes.

      May 4, 2011 at 11:01 am |
  6. remy730

    I'm from louisiana, just think of the celebrations as a second line.

    May 3, 2011 at 11:45 pm |
  7. Adam Lewis

    Well this author seems like a real idiot. WE ARE NOT BECOMING LIKE OUR ENEMY. They paraded the streets when 3000 innocent people died on 9/11... WE ARE PARADING BECAUSE WE GOT A MASS MURDERER!!! We are not becoming them! Is the author truly this rudementally simple???

    May 3, 2011 at 11:45 pm |
  8. Jason

    I think it comes down to an awareness of our shared mortality; the death of another human being reminds me of my own. And that is not a cause for celebration. --

    Yes, there are apparently no limits to your egocentrism while you feign empathy. Just because death is uncomfortable and that is what you associate with this situation does not make it the symbol for everybody else. It is not death that is tragic. It is the inverse; life is precious. Such a gift should not be bestowed upon those who squander their life in the pursuits that Bin Laden chose. His passing eradicates the symbolic scourge which has trampled our liberties and happiness since 9/11.

    May 3, 2011 at 11:44 pm |
    • Chuck

      Such a gift should not be bestowed upon those who squander their life in the pursuits that Bin Laden chose.

      Talk about egocentric. Apparently you know who should be given the gift of life. You probably also think you are the giver of all life.

      May 4, 2011 at 4:53 am |
  9. Dave Stewart

    This article really hit home for me. I feel morally wrong celebrating a persons death, even an evil tyrant as bin laden. We should just be thankful that he cannot cause anymore terror to anyone and leave it at that. We should not sink to their level, which i feel taking celebrations to the streets is, and just be thankful that good prevailed over evil. God bless to all.

    May 3, 2011 at 11:43 pm |
  10. Drew

    This was the eradication of evil, pure evil. Celebration of the death of evil occur every Sunday in my church, thank you very much.

    May 3, 2011 at 11:42 pm |
  11. Jean

    Sometimes what one would like to do and should do are two different things. Most adults have the capability to decide whether to act on an impulse or demonstrate restraint. I wish more had chosen restraint.

    May 3, 2011 at 11:42 pm |
    • dgrrr10


      May 4, 2011 at 8:58 am |
  12. Denice Bilbrey

    Grow up. This was justice. He made the situation, he paid for it. God is the Judge but sometime in the best interest of man
    we have to hurry things along. He was a Mass Murder- no better than Hittler. He was Evil. Anyone want to live beside him and not agree with him? Thought not. Get real this is after all war.

    May 3, 2011 at 11:40 pm |
  13. Bulligan

    Here is the thing. People were not celebrating his death, they were celebrating the closing of the 9/11 chapter. They would have still celebrated even if he would have being captured alive.

    May 3, 2011 at 11:40 pm |
    • Bin Laden Bin Shot

      That's true – the celebrations still would have happened. Me personally, I'm glad the guy's dead though.

      May 4, 2011 at 2:47 am |
    • dgrrr10

      The chapter will never be closed. Not to the people who lost those that were precious to them.

      May 4, 2011 at 9:11 am |
  14. Galoux

    Thank you, Mr. Prothero. I could not have said it better.

    May 3, 2011 at 11:38 pm |
    • Bin Laden Bin Shot

      That doesn't say much for you...

      May 4, 2011 at 2:45 am |
    • West

      I agree. Plus, many respondents are conveniently overlooking that the editorial is also about the responses of his students, who are divided on the issue, not just the professor's feelings. To all those narrow-minded people who dismiss that someone could feel moral ambivalence over bin Laden's death: you betray the fundamental hopes of our American founders, who believed that respect and tolerance were critically important to the foundation of our democracy.

      May 4, 2011 at 10:36 am |
  15. Woodrow

    Jeeze – Prothero is teaching kids. Parents (and taxpayers) are paying good $ for it too.

    Bin Laden was nothing but a virus infecting the middle east and occasionally branching out into the rest of the world. Killing him is like killing a type of cancer. He's not human. He's not even a thinking/feeling animal. I feel more remorse over the mouse that I caught in the trap a couple of weeks ago. Bin Laden is dead. I'm glad. One down, and on to the next virus.

    Go special forces and CIA! Good job.

    May 3, 2011 at 11:37 pm |
  16. robert smith

    Prothere, to "cringe" at honest emotion displayed is completely and utterly ridiculous. by any equivolancy standard....what must have been YOUR reaction 9/11?

    May 3, 2011 at 11:37 pm |
  17. Reality

    Bin Laden has been deleted, rejoice or not, his religion of terror still remains as a pox upon the earth. A cure, the long form:

    The Five Steps To Deprogram 1400 Years of Islamic Myths:

    ( –The Steps take less than two minutes to finish- simply amazing, two minutes to bring peace and rationality to over one billion lost souls- Priceless!!!)

    Are you ready?

    Using "The 77 Branches of Islamic "faith" a collection compiled by Imam Bayhaqi as a starting point. In it, he explains the essential virtues that reflect true "faith" (iman) through related Qur’anic verses and Prophetic sayings." i.e. a nice summary of the Koran and Islamic beliefs.

    The First Five of the 77 Branches:

    "1. Belief in Allah"

    aka as God, Yahweh, Zeus, Jehovah, Mother Nature, etc. should be added to your cleansing neurons.

    "2. To believe that everything other than Allah was non-existent. Thereafter, Allah Most High created these things and subsequently they came into existence."

    Evolution and the Big Bang or the "Gi-b G-nab" (when the universe starts to recycle) are more plausible and the "akas" for Allah should be included if you continue to be a "crea-tionist".

    "3. To believe in the existence of angels."

    A major item for neuron cleansing. Angels/de-vils are the mythical creations of ancient civilizations, e.g. Hitt-ites, to explain/define natural events, contacts with their gods, big birds, sudden winds, protectors during the dark nights, etc. No "pretty/ug-ly wingy thingies" ever visited or talked to Mohammed, Jesus, Mary or Joseph or Joe Smith. Today we would classify angels as f–airies and "tin–ker be-lls". Modern de-vils are classified as the de-mons of the de-mented.

    "4. To believe that all the heavenly books that were sent to the different prophets are true. However, apart from the Quran, all other books are not valid anymore."

    Another major item to delete. There are no books written in the spirit state of Heaven (if there is one) just as there are no angels to write/publish/distribute them. The Koran, OT, NT etc. are simply books written by humans for humans.

    Prophets were invented by ancient scribes typically to keep the un-educated masses in line. Today we call them for-tune tellers.

    Prophecies are also invali-dated by the natural/God/Allah gifts of Free Will and Future.

    "5. To believe that all the prophets are true. However, we are commanded to follow the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) alone."

    Mohammed spent thirty days "fasting" (the Ramadan legend) in a hot cave before his first contact with Allah aka God etc. via a "pretty wingy thingy". Common sense demands a neuron deletion of #5. #5 is also the major source of Islamic vi-olence i.e. turning Mohammed's "fast, hunger-driven" hallu-cinations into horrible reality for unbelievers.
    Walk these Five Steps and we guarantee a complete recovery from your Islamic ways!!!!

    Unfortunately, there are not many Muslim commentators/readers on this blog so the "two-minute" cure is not getting to those who need it. If you have a Muslim friend, send him a copy and help save the world.

    Analogous steps/cures are available at your request for deprogramming the myths of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Paganism at your request.

    May 3, 2011 at 11:36 pm |

      You have not even achieved reality yet. But you will it is appointed unto men once to die then the judgement whether you believe it or not doesn't make it any less the truth. If you are wrong you have lost everything in the end, If I am wrong then I have lost nothing in the end. Hmmmmmmm

      May 4, 2011 at 6:22 am |

      Are you off of your meds today?

      May 4, 2011 at 11:06 am |
  18. Roy

    Is it right to rejoice at the death of another human being. If we all go to are respective holy books or for those who don't believe our own moral code the majority of us will find that no its not right. However, is it human to rejoice when u have defeated your enemy yea. For that reason don't cringe just accept that this is America's victory lap. We will get back to arguing with each other in a little bit. For now U.S.A ROCKS

    May 3, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
    • Jeff

      I would dance in the streets, too, if we had finally defeated terrorism, but we didn't. We eliminated a symbol of that movement. We did not truly defeat the movement. If we ever do, I will party-hardy with the rest of you.

      May 4, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
  19. Robert

    This is the worst article I have ever read on CNN.

    May 3, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
    • JJ in CT

      Your opinion there Bob. But look at all the discussion it has promoted.... A lot of great comments for, against, and in between.

      May 4, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • Jeff

      How can you say this is the worst article you have ever read on CNN? It was one person's opinion. Whether you agree or disagree, there is something strange about celebrating someone's death, no matter how evil that person may be perceived. And what about the children? What are they learning, here?

      May 4, 2011 at 11:44 am |
  20. zzyxz

    Humans or any animal has a reactive instinct and associates with some form of a group be it national, social, political and so on. The expression of emotion can take many forms ... boisterous drunken, sorrowful, reflective depending upon many factors both intrinsic and extrinsic.... there is just one fact here ... world is better off without people like Osama bin laden .... muslims are better off without people like him ... hope peace prevails in the universe!!

    May 3, 2011 at 11:33 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.